Issue 10.1-10.2 | Fall 2011/Spring 2012 / Guest edited by Joseph N. DeFilippis, Lisa Duggan, Kenyon Farrow, and Richard Kim

Defying Realpolitik: Human Rights and the HIV Entry Bar

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No Liberation without Free Movement

The repeal of the entry bar was an island of redress amid an increasingly terrifying landscape for immigrants. Detention and deportation numbers continue to climb. The bottom line is if a policy is dangerous for immigrants, it is dangerous for immigrants with HIV. Even for those employing the more specific lens of HIV-related advocacy, considerable work remains to be done inside and outside the United States. Despite the policy change, there are still reports of individuals being delayed at US ports of entry. HIV-positive travelers to the US who received a waiver under the previous policy will continue to be pulled aside by officials until and unless all references to their waivers are expunged. The Patriot Act, the Homeland Security Act, the Welfare Reform Act, and the Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act have all taken a ruinous toll on HIV-positive immigrants; making it all but impossible for most to access housing or healthcare; limiting options for asylum and appeal; and effectively criminalizing non-green card holders (with or without HIV). Hospitals have taken it upon themselves to “repatriate” uninsured injured and ill immigrants, whether they are documented or not. We will have to beat back each of these assaults if we are serious about defending and expanding the rights of PLWHA, ensuring the full participation of all members of our communities in movement work, and supporting the free migration of all people. This includes sex workers (and former sex workers), people who use drugs, and people with criminal convictions: all of whom have felt the heavy impact of HIV and responded with critical analysis and activism, spearheading and joining campaigns against stigma and for access to care and treatment; and all of whom are currently barred from entering the US or adjusting their immigration status once here.

HIV-related restrictions on entry, stay, and residence remain in place all over the world. By foregrounding human rights arguments, we found a common language with intergovernmental agencies and with civil society activists and advocates in countries where the paradigm is considered both legitimate and essential (if not yet always enforceable). Formal and informal networks have been built; resources and expertise shared; joint projects launched; and internal and external pressures brought to bear on governments that obstruct the mobility of positive people.

As queers set out a progressive agenda, our project must be about the reshuffling and restructuring of power. This won’t happen unless we act to expand human rights, ensure the mobility of people and ideas (the kind of globalization the left can get behind), and expose the lunacy and treachery of borders. We cannot afford to be less ambitious than this.

There’s a reason queers were—and ought to remain—disproportionately involved in the work of tearing down entry bans. It’s not merely because of what HIV has meant to our community, but because we should be, by virtue of being outsiders (some more so than others), organic internationalists. This is our strength and nothing derived from assimilation even approximates it.

This writing would be incomplete without acknowledging the work of Vishal Trivedi, the Coalition to Lift the Bar, AIDS Action, the European AIDS Treatment Group, and the members of the International Task Team on HIV-related Travel Restrictions. Thanks to Coco Jervis and Gina Arias for years of invaluable conversation on and engagement with these issues, and along with Sean O’Toole for their invaluable feedback on this article.

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